Mayonnaise is healthier than ketchup. How do you feel about that?
It's true! Mayonnaise consists of olive oil and eggs, yet twenty-five percent of ketchup is made of sugar.
Living by this factoid was one of my first steps to changing my life for good.
I work as a graphic designer, marketing assistant and brand illustrator all rolled into one at my local premium supermarket, DeCicco & Sons. Naturally, I had an employee discount. Anything on the floor under the offices I worked in was at my fingertips. By the time lunch rolled around I would get in line for a gourmet chicken parmesan cutlet BLT with ranch dressing and top it off with coffee doused in a sweetened creamer. Sometimes I'd sneak a granola bar upstairs for a snack, and head out to have some free sweets at the bakery displays.
Yet every day at my desk on lunch break, I would reflect on why nothing fit me anymore. I was embarrassed that the only pieces of proper, fitting workwear I owned were three large size eighteen dresses my grandmother had sewn for me within the last year. I was twenty-one years old, exactly five feet tall, and pushing one hundred and eighty pounds on the scales. For the majority of my life from middle school into college, I was unhappy with my body. I never felt healthy or had enough energy, or ever feel comfortable shopping. My personal example of the vicious cycle would start with apathy and say, "Oh, I'll work out later," and when I'd get to that I'd say, "I deserve a treat for running three miles," and in the time that followed I'd realize, "Okay, I shouldn't have eaten that...but I'll just work out even harder next time!"
In early June I broke the cycle by answering one simple question.
"Is this who I will be for the rest of my life?"
Every morning I would answer that question with self-discipline. My last meal from a deli department was that lovely chicken parmesan cutlet BLT with ranch dressing. The lady at the bakery who would normally make me my mocha latte with vanilla creamer and sugar was surprised when I asked for hot water with lemon and cinnamon. My lovely coworkers in the office were genuinely concerned about my eating habits, not because I was eating healthier, but because the change happened so rapidly, quite like night and day.
My favorite part of the job, and the main backbone of success, was the dual screen display setup I was given. I would retouch, design, illustrate, tweak, and type on one monitor while I would listen to lecture upon lecture about sugar, fat, carbohydrates, debunked diets, genetically modified foods, processed foods, macronutrient and micronutrient intakes, obesity, anorexia, diabetes, you name it. Some of my favorites included raw vegan documentaries and British television series, "Supersize VS Superskinny." I went vegetarian for a week. I went vegan for a week after. Finally, around July I supplemented my consumption of nutritional information with a community-based source of information centered around a diet not well-known to the majority of the world today: the ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet has been my saving grace. Essentially, it takes the standard American diet and flips the fat and carbohydrate percentages. Instead of continuing a diet based on seventy five percent carbohydrates and five percent fats, I began to base my consumption around seventy five percent fats and five percent carbohydrates. If we go back and look at the mayonnaise versus ketchup example, you'll see that this suits the rule of fat in the keto diet. I wanted to follow the diet as strictly as possible.
I gave up all forms of sugar, no more than 10 net grams of carbohydrates, and cut out all processed and genetically-modified forms of foods whenever possible. As an added bonus, my severe cystic acne cleared up completely when I gave up all forms of dairy. Along the way I discovered a huge amount of information. Did you know most carrots and fruits are genetically modified to be sweeter to the average consumer? Did you know that many grams of sugar hide in cured bacon? Did you know that most iceberg lettuce does not contain any significant nutrients whatsoever? Did you know that bananas are actually one of the most sugar, carbohydrate, and calorie-dense foods you can eat? Did you know avocados and spinach contain more potassium than a generic banana?
In a matter of about ten days I went from shopping and consuming anything in my supermarket to fervently avoiding the highly-processed, boxed, packaged, ninety percent in the middle. My paychecks didn't go to clothes or books, or things for leisure. Half my money went to purchasing the food that was good for my body. Being of Hispanic background, it was understandably a very different environment at home when it came to food, especially since I gave up rice and beans, plantains and empanadas. I would have to cook my own meals, eyeball my grams and ounces of protein, carbs, and fats.
Food was no longer a comfort to me. Taste was not my anchor anymore. It became a science, a really complex game of Tetris where I would track everything I ate in a food diary, pick the best foods I could so that they would hit my macronutrient and micronutrient intakes and clear the level for the day.
By the end of the summer, I fit back into seven other dresses that had been collecting dust beyond the light of day. After five months, I discovered an old photo taken when I was a sophomore in college. I did not recognize myself whatsoever, and was stunned speechless because I thought I was making minimal progress. By February of the 2017 semester, only three outfits fit me properly because everything else began to billow, sag, and quite literally fall off.
You can't out-train a poor diet. A calorie is not just a calorie. Nutrition is ninety percent of maintaining a healthy body for life. Don't believe what you hear about sodium intake and cholesterol. I eat eggs every day and my bloodwork has never been more consistent on this diet, sleep has never been more refreshing and deep, and most importantly, I feel that I have finally begun the best chapter of my life.
At the time of writing this piece I have lost over thirty five pounds, am now smaller than a size eight in women's dresses, size six or small in women's tops, and can fit into a size twenty six in US bottoms.
How can you deny a diet that allows bacon and butter, eggs and avocados, spinach and salmon?
~ Erika Rosell